Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 587

Biloxi Blues is one of Simon's most successful plays. Simon won his first Tony Award for best play in 1985, and Matthew Broderick, playing the role of Eugene, won the Tony for leading actor. Following on the heels of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which opened Simon's autobiographical trilogy of plays, Biloxi Blues represented a turning point in the critical reception of Simon's work.

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First and foremost, many reviewers commented on Simon's new and readily apparent interest in examining his own past, including his emergence as a writer. Indeed, Simon's representation of Eugene's army career is almost identical to Simon's own, as is the family background presented in Brighton Beach Memoirs. As William A. Henry III writes in his review in Time,"Neil Simon has seemed in recent writing to seek a greater resonance between his plays and his most personal recollections, and to yearn for the respect that accrues to a creator who examines himself.’’

Simon's capability as a comic writer is aptly demonstrated. As with Simon's previous works, audience and critics hold differing opinions about his use of comedy. Theater-goers, on the whole, appreciate Simon's comedic strains more than critics, responding to them on a personal level rather than analyzing them on an intellectual level. Paul Berman of The Nation notes Simon's "formidable'' skill at humor. "You see it even when he plucks an old string like the funny quality of Jewish names."

However, Berman also asserts that while you do a lot of laughing,"the author would have done better to recognize [that] as the purpose of this play," rather than the development of a young writer.

For Robert Brustein of The New Republic, although the play "carries some authentic moments of tension and electricity," Simon makes a mistake in choosing to package them in "a conventional service comedy." Brustein further criticizes "the very jokes that unite the audience'' as serving to "disunite the play." Again, this commentary illustrates the basic disparity between the way a critic views a piece of art and the way the average viewer does.

Critics also discuss the play's characters and plot. Henry writes, "Inevitably, the sequel lacks some of the roundedness and universality of Brighton Beach: a military stopover cannot encompass the complex, cumulative relationships of a family."Berman writes that Eugene's progress toward becoming a writer is never seen in great enough depth and believes for this reason that Arnold is the more compelling character.

Overall, however, many critics agree with the audience's positive assessment. Reviewers comment on the realism of the army setting. Howard Kissel writes in Women's Wear Daily that it "is certainly Simon's best play, to my mind the first in which he has had the courage to suggest there are things that matter more to him than the reassuring sound of the audience's laughter. My admiration for the play is deep and unqualified." Kissel, thus, refutes other critics' opinions of Simon's use of humor in the play. Henry finds it to be among "the most telling statements of the World War II generation, or any generation that loses many of its young in battle, about how much of life is luck." He concludes that it "ranks as among the best new American plays of the Broadway season." Many critics also admiringly remark on the quality of the play's first staging. Brustein notes that the audience at the play showed remarkable "spirit" and was "more lively, more engaged, more at home than any Broadway crowd in years''—surely an enormously important indicator of a play's ultimate success.

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